Durham & Tyneside Dialect Group / Word Lists /

BORDER BALLADS (15-16th CENTURIES)

Special to the border ballads is a sense of bleak realism. It is clear from James Reed's The Border Ballads (1991) e.g. pp.18-19, 28, 39, that pleas from the Border Marches to central government in England often went unheeded: the borders were underfunded as regards the maintenance of law and civil order. This may have been a necessity of Tudor budgeting priorities - but it is also possible the border areas were being kept in a deliberately destabilised condition: large centres of loyalty like Durham and the Percy family were destatused; while family feuds and cattle raids meant there was little chance of the region uniting and - for example - demonstrating some initiative by siding with the Scots. If so, there is an added poignancy to the ballads: the suffering is real at the same time that it is imposed and unnecessary.
The ballad form is found from Yorkshire to the Scottish Lowlands; it is hard to believe - that as we have them - they can date to much before the 15th century; examples were in print in the 16th century. But through the word 'ballad' may derive from French, the format is distinctive to the north of England, with the proviso that ballads with a similar quatrain form, rhyme and rhythm are recorded in Denmark. This raises the question of whether the ballad was a Viking verse form - and the 'Neck Verse' attributed to Egil in York 948 AD lends some support to this idea. The ultimate source was the rhyming Latin hymn, an exemplar not copied in the south of England where alliterative verse only slowly yielded to rhyming couplets. The ballad remained a popular art form: its general lack of use in mainstream English verse can be judged by the impact of Coleridge's novel 'Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner'. By Coleridge's time, collections of ballads like Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765, based on a Lancashire manuscript of about 1650) had given the ballad a certain status, at least in antiquarian circles.
The examples printed in the Penguin 'Border Ballads' (ed. Wm Beattie, 1952) come principally from the Scottish lowlands (though surely also typical of much of the Border area). They form the basis of this list, plus extra words from Reed (marked +).
The Scots dialect is slightly closer to the original Old English than North-East dialect (thus OE hwa 'who', Scots hwa, NE whee); yet few of the words below are not attested on Tyneside in the early 19th century. It may be that Tyneside attracted many settlers from Northumberland which would be expected to have a dialect more akin to Scots; or it may be that the many Scots settlers on Tyneside brought with them more traditional forms (while reinforcing common terms); or it may be that printers on Tyneside adopted spelling conventions established in [rior Scottish usage (this would explain spellings like 'Aw' (I) and 'snaw' (snow) where Aa and snaa would be expected.

a' - all
ablins - perhaps
abune - above
+ahind - beind: 'ahind the wa'' C16 N'd, p.59
ain - own (adj)
+airt - quarter, direction: 'they rade the airt o' Liddesdale' N'd 1597, p.116
ane - one
auld - old

bait - feed: 'to bait our horse' p.122
bane - bone
batts - blows, punishment: 'we'll gie him his batts and let him gae' p.88
bide - await: 'there will I bide thee' p.36
bigged - built: 'bigged wi' lyme and stane' p.50
billie - companion, equal, brother: 'now fer ye na, my billie' p.97
birk - birch
blan - ceased
bonny - pretty
brak - broke
branks - bridle: 'wi branks and brecham on each mare' p.96
brecham - horse collar
breek - trouser leg
burd - lass: 'ye lied, ye lied, ye bonny burd' p.132
burn - river
bus - bush: 'a buss o' brume' p.170
busked - decorated: 'your well-busked hat' p.146

ca' - call
ca' - drive: 'ca'ing out her father's kye' p.147; + 'he ca'd a nail intil her tail' N'd C16, p.176
cam - came
carknet - necklace: 'a carknet o' bonny beads' p.214
carline wife - old woman
clap - ?caress: 'he'll kiss me and he'll clap me' p.236
+ cleed - clothe: 'I wad cleed thee in the silk so fine' N'd C18, p.187
cog - milking pail
com'd - come: 'the day is com'd thou was to die' (die rhymes with three) p.100
corbie - crow
corn-caugers - corn carriers: 'like corn-caugers ga'en the road' p.96

dale - valley: 'the dales of Tyne' p.34
ding - beat: 'the bangisters (outlaws) will ding them down' p.113; dang - banged: 'they dang wi' trees and burst the door' p.76; 'to ding the fun deer doun' p.169
die (rhymes with 'me' p.34)
downa - ?cannot: 'they downa stir' p.85
drie - ?undergo, manage: 'the penaunce he maun drie' p.135
drumly - ?dull: 'drumlie grew his ee' p.193
dyke - ?turf wall: 'behint yon auld fail dyke' p.127

ee - eye; 'twa een o' tree' p.121
esk - newt

fa' - fall
fells - hills: 'on Roxburgh fells' p.34
fend - provide for: 'to fend my men and me' p.35
fleyed - scared: 'sleeping was fleyed frae me' p.83
frae - from

gae - go
gang - go
gar - make (to do). cause: 'he gar'd sae mony die' (rhymes with me) p.143
gat - got
gear - goods/animals; 'for goud and gear' p.106
gif - if
gin - if
graith - ready: 'graith my horse!' p.55
grat- wept
gree - agree

hae - have
hame - home
hap - cover: 'and happp'd him with the sod sae green' p.162
hause - neck: 'white hause bane' p.127
hollin - holly
hooly - slowly: 'O hooly hooly gaed she back' p.198
houp - valley: 'o'er hill and houp' p.102
howk - dig: she's howket a grave' p.135
hoysed - 'they hoysed their sails' p.30

ilk ane - each one

kale - greens
ken - know
kevils - lots: 'we cast the kevils us amang, to see which suld to the grenewood gang' p.213
+ kirk - church. N'd C16, p.155
+ kittled - tickled: 'me Nancy kittled me fancy' N'd C18, p.162
kye - cattle

lap - leapt
lave - remainder: 'better lose ane than lose a' the lave' p.110
layne - hide: 'I winna layne my name frae thee' p.76
leal - liegeman, loyal follower
lift - sky
limmer - rascal
linn- waterfall
loosed - freed: 'they have loosed out Dick's three kye' p.86
loup- lept: 'he's loupen on ane [horse]' p.89; 'he made the bolts, the door hang oon, loup frae the wa'' p.109
lyart - grey: 'lyart locks of Harden's hair' p.75
lyke wake - death-watch: 'this night will be our lyke-wake night' p.110

mair - more
marrow - match: 'an unequal marrow' p.179; + husband: 'O stay at hame, my marrow!' N'd ca.1600, p.144
maun - must
mickle - much, great: 'with mickle might' p.44
minnie - mother
moodie-hill - molehill
morn - tomorrow: 'the morn's the day that I maun die' (die rhymes with be) p.97
moss - bog: 'o'er moss and muir' p.102
ousen - oxen

pick - pitch: 'dark the night as pick and tar' p.102
plooky - spotty, pimply: 'plooky, plooky are your cheeks' p.152

ramp - riotous: 'ye ramp rider!' p.145
red - to neaten: 'the king's redding caim' p.174
rin - run
routing - bellowing: 'sax poor ca's [calves]..a'routing loud for their minnie' p.72
ryding - (cattle) raiding

sair - sorely
sall - shall
sark - shirt: 'the sark that he had on his back' p.171
scug - ?conceal: 'to scug his headly sin' p.135
sea-maw - gull p.182
seld - sold
shoon - shoes
sic - such
sicken - such: 'sicken an outlaw' p.61
skaith - harm
skeely - skillful
skeigh - shy p.110
sloken - quench
snell - sharp: 'a cauld day and a snell' p.118
spier - seek: 'gude fellows that spier for me' p.83
stane - stone
+steekit - barred: 'noorice [the nurse] steekit dor an window' N'd C16, p.153
+stotys (pl.) - heifers
syde - low: 'you wear the horn so syde' p.141
syke - ditch: 'in a dirty syke' p.106; stream? 'in syke nor ditch' p.209

ta'en - taken
theek - thatch: 'wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair we'll theek our nest' p.127
thraw - twist: 'the corpse began to thraw' p.134
tod - a fox: 'a tod has frightened me' p.17
thir - these
trig - neat. trim
+trod - track: 'they may lawfullye followe there goddes with a sleuthe hounde the trodde thereof' N'd C16 p.45
twa - two

wee - tiny: 'the wee worms' p.144
weel - well
weet - wet
wha - who
whatten - what kind of
whiles - sometimes: 'and whiles I gaed, and whiles I sat' p.162
whins - gorse bushes: 'the whinnes shall pricke thee to the bare bane' p.176
win - get, reach: 'yon are the hills of heaven...where you will never win' p.194
winna - will not
won - dwell: 'the man that wons yon foreste intill' p.57

ye - you (sg.)
yett - gate